I had my first and only abortion in 2020, at age 35. Now, not even two years later, as the U.S. veers terrifyingly toward its worst Gilead self after this week’s SCOTUS arguments, I’m five months pregnant. And the reason I can even begin to do this now? It’s because I had an abortion then.
What those fighting to overturn Roe v. Wade seem to have forgotten is twofold: First, making abortion illegal just creates illegal abortions. Second, despite Republicans’ apparent panic at the plummeting birth rate in the U.S., there are actually plenty of people — even we much-maligned millennials! — who do want to have children. We just want to be responsible about how we have them. And that means not bringing them into this world (or, rather, this America) with zero federally mandated paid parental leave, without universal healthcare or Pre-K, and with skyrocketing costs of living and childcare, unless we are confident that we will be able to somewhat mitigate those unfair circumstances and give our kids a shot at not just surviving, but thriving. In other words, if we have time, money, and a support network on our own.
When I decided to have an abortion, the COVID-19 pandemic had seemingly just begun. My 4-year-old son was stuck at home from school for months. Meanwhile, my job in media hadn’t slowed down at all. I was running a skeleton crew on a skeletal budget, and we were expected to ramp up production to make up for flagging ad sales.
So I started work at 5 a.m. and I didn’t close my computer until the Slacks and emails petered out, around midnight. My son, bless his heart, of course interrupted my Zoom meetings — but he also largely played quietly near me, accepted my hastily fixed meals, and listened to about four hours of audiobooks per day before falling asleep to the clacking of my keyboard.
Meanwhile, I was still required to pay my ex-husband alimony — pandemic or no pandemic. My son and I were living with our third and most difficult roommate, as well as my new partner, to cut costs. And let’s just say it was a tough living situation having three adults, two cats and a four-year-old on lockdown in tight quarters. My partner had taken a pandemic pay cut as well as a third, part-time job. We were struggling.
I had been using the NuvaRing as instructed for years. But sometimes, as the kind nurse at the abortion clinic eventually told me, these things just don’t work like they’re supposed to. When I got the positive pregnancy test I screamed and threw the test, along with my NuvaRing, out my second-floor bathroom window. (Then I went out to get them and put them in the actual trash; I’m not a monster.)
My partner and I talked about what to do, and while it was not an easy choice (we weren’t young; would this be our last chance to have a kid?) the abortion not only felt like the only real option all along, it also felt like a blessing. It was a choice, one that we had the right and the ability to make. For ourselves and for our family.
I live in Tennessee, where you’re required to have two different abortion appointments, 48 hours apart: one to get the ultrasound, confirm the pregnancy, and have the “option” to hear the heartbeat; then, another appointment to actually have the procedure or be given abortion pills (but only after you’ve spent that 48 hours thinking about what you’ve done, young lady).
In July of 2020, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee passed an abortion ban during the 48 hours between my two abortion appointments.
Suddenly, my second appointment, which was meant to end my pregnancy, instead extended it by an as-yet-undetermined amount of time — until I could take off work, drive four hours to Atlanta, and get an appointment? Until I could fly back to my home state of New York? Until the ACLU worked its magic to block such a clearly unconstitutional ban?
I have never felt my own privilege more than in that moment at the abortion clinic, immediately post-ban. Because for me, as gutting as the news was, I knew with complete confidence I would still get an abortion. I would get an abortion, and I would get one safely, at the hands of qualified and compassionate and legally practicing medical professionals. It was just a question of where.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than 22,000 pregnant people die from unsafe abortions around the world every year. Those are the stats without the U.S. making abortion illegal in 26 states, which is what will happen as soon as the Supreme Court overturns Roe. And the people having those unsafe, illegal abortions are doing so because they have absolutely no other options, which is also what will happen in those 26 states in a post-Roe America.
As I was googling NYC flight prices in the abortion clinic lobby in suburban Mt. Juliet, Tennessee (a clinic which, by the way, is run by doctors who fly in from Northern states to practice here, and I’m pretty sure that is what “doing God’s work” actually means), one of the administrators was helping a teenager look at Greyhound schedules. This kid was planning to head to a neighboring state, alone, to hopefully get the abortion she had been supposed to get that very day, likely already some distance from home; according to the Guttmacher Institute, 96% of Tennessee counties have no medical facilities providing abortions.
Looking at that girl in the lobby being so brave, and determined to make her own choices in the face of a country hell-bent on taking those choices away, I felt a rage that I’ve carried with me ever since. I gave her my phone number, promised to give her a ride to Atlanta, Venmoed her $200, and went to cry in my car. I never heard from her.
Luckily, the great saints of the ACLU worked fast; the abortion ban was blocked, and I was back at the clinic within the week to complete the process, no Georgia road trip necessary. And throughout it all, every woman working at that clinic spoke to me informatively, compassionately, and respectfully, without a hint of condescension or judgment. I don’t want to imagine the kind of care that pregnant people forced to seek out illegal abortions receive, but I know it is a far cry from this. As for my own experience, I don’t think I’ve felt safer or more carefully cared for by medical professionals ever before or since.
In the year and a half since my abortion, I quit my burnout job and moved to a company that values work-life balance. I paid off alimony for good, as well as all my credit card debt. I finally (at 36!) started investing. My partner went back to school, got a new degree, and jumped into an exciting and better-paying new career. We got engaged — rather, my partner proposed and my son said “yes” — and got married six months later. And yes, we did finally bid that roommate farewell.
Today, although the pandemic continues to rage on, seemingly endlessly, even my 6-year-old son is fully vaccinated. I’ll be giving birth in a pandemic-veteran hospital that’s running on cautious, careful, evidence-based ongoing management — no longer on fear, panic, and desperation.
All of these immense changes from my life and the world of summer 2020 are what’s giving this baby a fighting chance. No, not a chance at being born — that bare minimum that is unsurprisingly the conservative standard these days (criminalize abortion; get as many babies born as possible!). But a chance at having a full and whole life, as a wanted child, nurtured by parents who are willing and equipped to handle all that entails.
When I think about the possibility of having brought a second child, a newborn, into my 2020 house of the aforementioned fear and panic and desperation — not to mention, you know, financial instability and burnout and roommate drama and zero hours in the day to even give my existing child the attention he very much deserved — I don’t know how I could have handled it. Having a baby in 2020 would have been so, so difficult for me, and yet my situation was a goddamn walk in the park compared to the 5 million American women who lost their jobs entirely in 2020. Or the families of the 375,000 people who died of COVID that year. Or the Black women who already face increased risks of pregnancy complications and maternal mortality rates (largely due to just plain not being listened to by doctors) — who will be the most unfairly impacted by the ever-more-restrictive abortion laws in Mississippi, Texas, and elsewhere.
Because as much as I was struggling financially in 2020, under the weight of the most devastating global pandemic of the century, hey, at least I had a credit card. I could book flights home to New York, get an abortion there, and deal with the costs later; after all, I also had a job with PTO and a salary. I owned a car, which I could use to drive myself across state lines for the closest available abortion appointment. I had a partner who could take on childcare duties while I traveled. I had options. If Roe v. Wade is overturned this coming June, I will in all likelihood still have those options.
What I can’t stop thinking about — what none of us should stop thinking about — is all of the pregnant people who won’t.